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Brief Description of Events and Services of Holy Week

© Tudor Antonel Adrian, Dreamstime.com© Tudor Antonel Adrian, Dreamstime.comTo track the events, use Map 6 of the Orthodox Study Bible 
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Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday

Saturday: Jesus was found in Jericho and asked to come to the house of Lazarus who was sick. He traveled to see Lazarus in Bethany, but his sisters told Him it was too late, Lazarus was dead. The shortest, and one of the most poignant verses in the New Testament comes from this episode, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Then He went to the tomb, and said with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!”

Sunday: The miraculous resurrection of Lazarus caused crowds to gather for the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem the next day.

The solemn days of Holy Week are preceded by two joyous days. The first commemorates the day Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. On Palm Sunday, Jesus is acknowledged and acclaimed as the Messiah, the King, and Redeemer of Israel. With palm branches in our hands, we identify with the people of Jerusalem. Together with them, we greet Christ and confess Him to be our King.

It is significant that Holy Week begins with Christ resurrecting Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, represents each one of us, for we are all friends of Jesus. With Lazarus' resurrection, "death begins to tremble," for the event is a foretaste of what is to come. Thus begins Holy Week--the decisive duel between Life and Death—with Life victorious!

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday Evenings

Monday: Jesus was in Bethany (He returned to Bethany after the Triumphal Entry) and Jerusalem. Jesus Cursed the Fig Tree, and Cleansed the Temple (a dramatic defiance of authority) (Matthew 21)

Tuesday and Wednesday: On Tuesday and Wednesday He spent hours teaching in Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives, and at Bethany. Among the teachings: The Wicked Vinedressers (Matthew 21), The Wedding Feast (Matthew 22) (almost all his teachings were in answer to the Pharisees and a stinging rebuke to them), and The Ten Virgins.

Bridegroom Service The name, Bridegroom Service, comes from the central figure in the well-known parable of the ten virgins (Mt. 25:1-13). The troparion "Behold the Bridegroom cometh at midnight..." sung at each service brings to mind thoughts of our own mortality, the state of our soul, and the expectation of the second coming of our Lord “to judge the living and the dead.” (Creed)

  • On Sunday evening, we commemorate Joseph the Patriarch, the beloved son of Jacob (Gen. 37-50) and the cursing of the fig tree (Mt. 21:18-20).
  • On Monday evening,we commemorate the parable of the ten virgins (Mt. 25:1-3) and the parable of the talents (Mt. 25:14-30).
  • On Tuesday evening, we commemorate the sinful woman who anointed the head of Jesus shortly before His passion (Mt. 26:6-13) and Judas, the disciple who betrayed Christ.

"Behold, the Bridegroom cometh at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find awake. But he whom He shall find neglectful is verily unworthy. Behold therefore, my soul, beware, lest thou fall into deep slumber, and the door of the Kingdom be closed against thee, and thou be delivered unto death. But be thou wakeful, crying Holy! Holy! Holy! art Thou, O God. Through the intercessions of the Theotokos, have mercy on us."

Holy Wednesday

Wednesday: see above.

Unction Service. The Mystery of Holy Unction is established upon the word and actions of our Lord Jesus Christ. It embodies, extends, and continues His healing ministry. It is the sign of His transforming presence in a bruised and hurting world, and the emblem of His promise to deliver us from the corruption caused by the Fall from Paradise.

Holy Thursday

Thursday: Jesus was in Jerusalem preparing for the Passover meal. Later, while at meal in the Upper Room, Jesus established and instituted the Mystery or Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. "Receive me today, O Son of God, as a partaker of Thy Mystical Supper...I will not give Thee a kiss as did Judas...Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom."

Service of the Twelve Gospels. On the evening of Holy Thursday, 12 selected Gospel lessons are read which tell the entire story of our Lord's suffering and death. It includes His farewell talk to His disciples, His burial, and the sealing of the tomb. After the fifth Gospel lesson, the large cross and icon of the crucified Christ is carried to the center of the church to be venerated.

Great and Holy Friday

Friday: Jesus was in the temple prison until His crucifixion.

Lamentations Service On Great Friday, we remember the ineffable (overwhelming) mystery of Christ's death. As we sing on the evening before, "Today He is suspended on a tree, who suspended the earth above the waters...." How can this be happening? At vespers, the icon of the crucified Christ is removed from the cross. This is one of the most memorable moments of Holy Week, and makes this service a priority for those with children (be ready to explain to the very sensitive little ones that Jesus rose and is alive, and that is what we will celebrate on Pascha!) so they can tie together the death and resurrection of Christ. We remember Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. At Lamentations, we sing the burial service of our Lord.

Holy Saturday

Saturday: Jesus was in Hades 

Vespers On Great Saturday, the service recalls the many times when God either redeemed (saved) his people, or spoke through the prophets of the new life he would give them because he had forgiven their sins due to his great love of them. Since the time of the Fall from Paradise, God has worked to form a people, speak to them, and bring them from bondage, save or rescue them. Some of the readings are the Exodus story, Jonah in the whale, and the “dry bones” prophecy of Ezechiel. Christ brings definitive redemption from the ultimate bondage of sin and death, when he descends into Hades, the place of the dead, bursts the bonds of Hades, and rises from the dead. Death has no hold on us anymore. "He gave Himself as a ransom to death in which we were held captive, sold under sin. Descending into Hades through the cross, He loosed the bonds of death."

Great and Holy Pascha 

Jesus was seen first in the garden of the tomb by Mary Magdalen, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and other women, then on the Road to Emmaus, then in the Upper Room where ten of the disciples had gathered.

Matins Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen! "Come receive the light from the Light that is never overtaken by night and glorify Christ who is risen from the dead. It is the day of resurrection. Be illumined people. Pascha! The Lord's Pascha! From death unto life, from the earth to Paradise, has Christ our God led us, singing the song of victory. Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!"

(Courtesy of St. John Chrysostom Church, edited by C. Buleza)

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